Wednesday, February 21, 2024

ARGENTINA | 21-05-2021 23:27

What we learned this week: May 15 to 22

Stories that caught our eye over the past seven days in Argentina.



There were 3,482,512 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion and 73,391 deaths at press time yesterday, as against 3,269,466 cases and 69,853 deaths the previous Friday in a week culminating in a nationwide nine-day lockdown as from today being declared on Thursday evening. Speculation as to what form the future measures might take dominated much of the week with increasing consensus in the direction of tighter restrictions in the light of the Covid-19 data. On Monday Santiago del Estero became the first province to suspend classroom education (a possibility by then being contemplated even by City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, hitherto adamant on the issue), followed the next day by Santa Fe. With no intensive care beds remaining in the provincial capital, Rosario or his native Rafaela, Santa Fe’s Peronist Governor Omar Perotti also banned all social meetings and restricted traffic to essential activities as from last Thursday, while imposing closing hours of 5pm on shops and 7pm on restaurants and bars – restrictions rejected by the local opposition. On Tuesday previous records were broken with a vengeance as 35,543 new coronavirus cases were recorded with 745 more people dead. The next day there were even more cases (39,652) but less deaths (494). Thursday’s nationwide broadcast (endorsed by Rodríguez Larreta) suspended all social meetings and classroom education while limiting shopping to essential items and imposing a virtual curfew between 6pm and 6am. Unsurprisingly, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof said Friday he would complywith the presidential DNU.



In order to curb surging meat prices, the government on Monday banned beef exports for the next 30 days, prompting the four main farming lobbies to declare a nine-day strike the next day. The move was criticised not only by the opposition and the business community but also by the Peronist-ruled provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe.



Federal judge María Servini de Cubría on Wednesday requested an international arrest warrant for Parlasur Cambiemos deputy Fabián "Pepín" Simón Rodríguez Simón, declaring him in contempt of court and slapping a lien on all his assets, after the courthouse middleman for ex-president Mauricio Macri requested political asylum in Uruguay on Monday. In Uruguay since December, Rodríguez Simón, who is accused of having pressured the businessmen Cristóbal López y Fabián De Sousa of Grupo Indalo to throw the support of their media behind the then Macri presidency by threatening their ruin in 2016, has been summoned in the case and fears imprisonment should he heed the summons. The self-proclaimed exile’s bid for political asylum could be complicated by the fact that he already has residence in Uruguay while Macri said that he understood the request but disagreed with it. Rodríguez Simón said that he blames his “persecution” on having helped to make López pay taxes on his casinos. President Alberto Fernández on Tuesday criticised the Macri aide as a "round-the-clock operator" while Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner criticised the “cynicism” of the opposition.



President Alberto Fernández said on Tuesday that the human rights problem in Venezuela “was disappearing bit by bit," adding that on his European tour earlier this month French President Emmanuel Macron had agreed with him that the solution in Venezuela was dialogue, not sanctions, even quoting Macron as saying: “Democracy and the institutions are fully functioning in Venezuela.” Yet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is continuing to document human rights violations by the Nicolás Maduro regime.



The Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday approved postponing this year’s midterm voting by a month with the PASO primaries now scheduled for September 12 and the elections themselves for November 14 – a clause in the bill prohibits any subsequent changes in these dates, a condition stipulated by the Juntos por el Cambio opposition for their support. The bill was approved by 223 deputies while only three voted against – FIT leftist Juan Carlos Giordano and Juntos por el Cambio mavericks Fernando Iglesias and Alvaro Lamadrid. It now goes to the Senate.



The “blue” dollar, the main parallel exchange rate, had its second bumpy week running, only to end up in the same place, closing the week yesterday at 153 pesos, exactly the same as the previous Friday. It remained well behind the official exchange rate (which inched up to 99.25 pesos as against 99 pesos the previous Friday as quoted by Banco Nación) if the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers are added. Among the unofficial but legal alternative exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) staged its strongest advance since mid-February, rising to 162.87 pesos as against 159.30 pesos the previous Friday. The MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) reflected this trend with an even bigger increase, up to 158.37 pesos from 153.60 pesos the previous Friday. Country risk, was appreciably down to 1,535 from 1,595 points the previous Friday, reflecting relative optimism that push would not come to shove regarding the Paris Club debt due at the end of this month.



Former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal said on Tuesday: "I’d like to be president, although it doesn’t drive me crazy," while ruling out a return to her previous job by saying: "Now it’s all about transforming the country." Referring to the nation’s current situation, she said: 'I’m convinced that Argentina’s problems today like 42 percent below the poverty line (including 73 percent of children), unemployment, inflation and over 70,000 dead (from Covid-19) can only be resolved by a plan … by all the experts and all the parties," deploring that the government’s priorities were instead judicial reform and taking on the farming sector. Vidal also pointed out that the debate over pandemic restrictions would not exist if there were vaccines. 



Not everything is deadly serious in these grim times of approaching lockdown – while Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was chairing a Senate session last Thursday, a nearby microphone caught her enquiring: "At what time does Rapanui close?" in reference to an upmarket shop for chocolate and ice cream, adding that it was 20 metres away from her flat. Apparently she did not consider the debate over a bill to promote gender diversity in the fisheries sector to be interesting enough or important enough to command her full attention. This legislation was approved on the same day as a somewhat weightier bill – granting presidential superpowers to enforce coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

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